A Measure of Time: Watches in Sports

Time has long been the yardstick on which peak performance in sport is measured. We celebrate the instruments that encapsulate the spirit of human endeavour across the arenas of sport
Published: 24 May 2024

Since ancient times, sports have symbolised and celebrated the spirit of human endeavour. Legendary feats of physical and psychological accomplishments have been enshrined in the annals of history. Within the context of sports, much of the basis of achievement centres around time, with competitors striving to be the fastest in the field. As part of our celebration of wellness, we commemorate the instruments that not only measure and determine the basis of sporting competition, but also symbolise the spirit of human endurance across land, ocean and in the air.


In motorsport, no race embodies the sporting spirit of endurance and mastery better than the renowned 24 Hours of Le Mans. Drivers are required to possess cat-like reflexes and superhuman levels of stamina in order to survive, let alone compete and think about beating other contenders to win the gruelling 24-hour race. To commemorate the centenary of the world’s best- known endurance race, Rolex issued a special limited-release Daytona (recently discontinued in white gold, and replaced with a yellow- gold iteration). The embodiment of Rolex’s nine decades of motorsport heritage, the Daytona has always been synonymous with legendary feats of motorsport achievement.

As for this particular Daytona, the distinction lies in the details. Apart from a special bezel that highlights the “100” indicator in a bright racing red, the “Le Mans” Daytona also sports an exclusive, new calibre 4132 movement that boosts the maximum chronograph measure from the standard 12 hours, up to a Le Mans-appropriate 24 hours. In terms of aesthetics, the ‘reverse panda’ dial is reminiscent of its ‘Paul Newman’ predecessors of the early ’70s—a deliberate choice, considering Paul Newman himself was an avid racer and one-time competitor in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1979. The horological embodiment of the human desire to consistently push the limits of motorsport, the Rolex “Le Mans” Daytona combines motorsport history with the best of Rolex’s racing association and watchmaking heritage.


Out at sea, no race brings out the best in maritime performance more than the America’s Cup. The oldest competition in international sport, the contest draws the crème de la crème of sailing talent and yacht design innovation, and is the pinnacle of competition in a nautical arena. Officine Panerai, too, is no stranger to the sea. Having supplied the Royal Italian Navy for a substantial part of its history, maritime performance is a key pillar of its DNA. On the other hand, the Luna Prada Rossa sailing team has become synonymous with seafaring performance and a desire to push the limits, having notably been the Challenger of Record for the 2021 iteration of the America’s Cup.

The partnership is one borne of the love for the sea and has birthed timepieces that capture the union of daring, skill, cutting-edge technology and that relentless pursuit of excellence that drives Luna Rossa’s competitive edge. This year’s release is no different. The Submersible GMT Luna Rossa Titanio—unveiled at this year’s Watches and Wonders—combines the best of Panerai’s watchmaking nous.

The first timepiece featuring the new SuperLumiNova X2 lume on the indices and hour hand, the Submersible GMT Luna Rossa Titanio has a case made of the same Grade 5 titanium used in the manufacture of the Luna Rossa racing yacht. The watch is also—as expected—water resistant up to 500 metres, and is proven to withstand pressure of up to 25 per cent more than the guaranteed water resistance value. A handsome union of avant-garde technology and transcendental performance, the Submersible GMT Luna Rossa Titanio is the personification of the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli team as it vies for its first America’s Cup victory this August.


Since early civilisation, humanity has shared a collective desire to take to the skies, long before the Cartier Santos-Dumont Reverse Wright Brothers’ first powered flight. Following their breakthrough in 1903, the human desire for continual improvement and exploration saw inventors and engineers begin to push the boundaries of flight, seeking to go higher, faster and further—exploration that persists even today. Across most aviation endeavours, time has been one of—if not the most important—elements at play, with watches such as the Cartier Santos-Dumont testament to the importance of time in the process of flight. While the modern Santos-Dumont is more of a dress watch than a true ‘sport’ watch, its continued relevance spotlights Louis Cartier’s foresight and design acumen—staying power is not something easily achieved, given how modern trends fade almost as quickly as they emerge.


The source of that staying power becomes immediately evident through this year’s Santos-Dumont Rewind. While it presents itself as any other regular Santos-Dumont in terms of movement and case dimensions, it displays the time in an interesting and playful way: backwards. To achieve that, Cartier has mirror-flipped the positions of the Roman numerals on the dial—read clockwise, it goes from 12, to 11, to 10, and so on. Despite its cleverness, however, the Rewind is still a piece that insists on being taken seriously—the smoky, scarlet dial and matching ruby cabochon (denoting its platinum case) subtly hint at the pedigree beneath its quirky facade.

As a timepiece—its presentation of the horological unpresentable in a format that has come to be beloved by watch aficionados everywhere—reveals the postmodernist artistry behind the Santos-Dumont’s design process. That said, it still carries the competitive, sporting essence of its predecessors, while reminding us all of the need to rediscover the elements of fun and freedom in sport every now and then.

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